Destinations: North America, Travel Tips

The 13 Essentials: What to Pack for Cuba

January 30, 2017

You have your flights booked, casa particulars arranged, and an itinerary all set to go for your trip to Cuba. Now what to pack? Despite an uptick in tourism to Cuba it remains a challenging destination for many foreigners due to the lack of infrastructure and difficulty in purchasing many of the essentials. This list includes the basic necessities you’ll need to ensure a smoother trip!

1. Your passport (and copies of your passport)

While this seems obvious, don’t forget your passport (even if you’re traveling to Cuba via a cruise) and keep it on you. You’ll need it when obtaining your tourist card, passing through customs, or exchanging cash. Make a few copies of your passport and keep them handy in various bags. This will make life easier in case you end up losing your passport.

2. Printouts of Everything

In addition to a copy of your passport, bring printouts of accommodation confirmations, addresses, flight information, proof of medical insurance and anything else you might need copies of. Technology and connectivity is usually not as easy peazy in Cuba.

3. Cash (lots of it and not the US Dollar if you can help it)

Cuba continues to be a cash dominated country. Credit card machines are rare and ATM machines don’t always work (and sometimes are just out of money). Plus if you have a U.S. issued credit card don’t even bother as these are still not accepted in Cuba. Be sure to bring plenty of cash to cover your expenses (accommodations, meals, transportation) plus extra. The U.S. dollar is charged an extra 10% fee for exchange so if possible, bring Euros. Read more about Money Matters in my previous post: “Things You Should Know Before Traveling to Cuba (especially for Americans)“.

4. Heat-Friendly Apparel

Cuba tends to be hot and humid and the sun is quite strong. Be sure to pack light, casual clothing that will keep you cool. Consider bringing a sun hat or even a fan to help you beat the heat.

5. Sunscreen (and Aloe Vera if you burn easily)

Speaking of a strong sun, even when it might not feel hot, the UV-index in Cuba is high. Be sure to protect yourself with a good sunscreen. If you tend to burn easily pack some Aloe Vera in your suitcase.

6. Beach / Face Towel

If you plan to visit the beaches of Cuba consider packing your own towel, particularly if you are staying at a casa particular. Most accommodations only supply you with a bath towel (not even a face towel). A large microfiber camping towel is a great option since it’s light and dries fast.

7. Toilet Paper (or better yet baby wipes!)

Restrooms are not always supplied with toilet paper. In fact, any paper good (napkins, tissues) are not always readily available. Keep a stash on you at all times! Baby wipes are even better: gentle and multi-functional. Great for trips to the bathroom or wiping your hands after a meal!

8. Hand Sanitizer

Packing hand sanitizer anytime you travel is always a good idea. I found this to be particularly true for Cuba where there wasn’t always running water in restrooms.

9. Medication (especially stomach medicine) and First Aid Items

Medication and first aid items such as Advil / Tylenol or Band Aids, are difficult to find and expensive in Cuba so bring your own. Don’t forget to pack a stomach medicine like Immodium in case you drink tap water by accident (which you should avoid at all cost)! Keep your stomach meds on you at all times. Falling victim to stomach woes is not fun, especially not while stuck in the streets of a foreign country with no bathroom nearby. Read more tips for avoiding Travelers’ Diarrhea in this post: “Don’t drink tap water!” and Other Tips for Avoiding Travelers’ Diarrhea.

10. Mosquito Repellant

Which Cuban cities you decide to visit will determine how much you’ll need mosquito repellant. However, with Zika still a concern, and Cuba remaining on the CDC list as a Level 2 Alert location it’s better to be safe and practice preventative measures against potential bug bites. So pack that mosquito repellant!

11. Pens

What we take for granted every day is a rarity in Cuba. Pens are difficult to come across and very much valued. If you intend on keeping a travel journal bring a few spare pens to keep on hand. If you have extras give them as a gift to your casa particular hosts. They’ll be extremely appreciative.

12. Snacks

Local markets and stores do not offer much variety. In fact, it’s quite typical for a store to have empty shelf upon empty shelf. Don’t forget: Cuba remains a Communist state so items are rationed. If you have a favorite snack or any food essentials be sure to bring it with you.

13. Books and Entertainment

Part of the charm of traveling to Cuba is to sit back and enjoy the slow-pace. Bring books to read or cards to play. When you’re on your bus ride, you can pull out that book. When you’re at your casa particular, sit outside on the deck with your host and teach them a card game over some mojitos. Take in the moment and enjoy the beauty and pace of Cuba.

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